Friday, September 13, 2013

The Carlton New Wave

Over the next month our Australian Perspectives’ mini-season The Carlton New Wave brings to you a series of avant-garde films made right here in Melbourne’s inner-city. Guest blogger and co-curator Louise MacKenzie explains why these films from the ’60s and ’70s are so significant to the revival of the Australian film industry.  

In the 1960s and ‘70s there was body of films being made in Carlton that film critic and curator Bruce Hodsdon suggests were the seeds of the Australian film revival. The French New Wave influenced these Carlton films, which similarly tell the story of individuals within a specific place.
Exploring the experience of the city within a rapidly changing cultural context, the films offer the opportunity to reflect on the tumultuous ‘60s and ‘70s, informing us of who we are and the interconnections between culture and place.
Telling our own stories is essential, which is what characterised the films and made them important. National Sound and Film Archive historian Graham Shirley states that in the early 1960s “…the feature industry [in Australia] had flickered to the point of extinction…” [1]. At this time the films being shown in mainstream cinemas where overwhelmingly English or American.

With this underground movement in Carlton, we began to relate our own experiences again on film. The Carlton films, while never commercially successful, contributed to the renaissance of Australian filmmaking and culture. Many of those involved went on to work in the commercial sector and perhaps most important, the films began to free up ideas.
Phillip Adams [2] notes that by the 1960s Australian culture had “atrophied” and had been like this for the last half century (61).  He titles a chapter about the re-birth of the commercial Australian Cinema, “The Cultural Revolution”.  Up until then anyone who wanted to do anything culturally or intellectually interesting went to London.[3] According to filmmaker Nigel Buesst, “… Melbourne in the sixties was … a fairly boring city … we wanted to make films that might change that”. [4]
Brian Hodsdon, in discussing the French national cinema, writes that the New Wave films “Mark[ed] the advent of a new modernism into mainstream film narrative, the French New Wave challenged a national cinema aesthetically and re-jigged it structurally”[5].
Despite borrowing these aesthetics and structures from the French New Wave, the Carlton films remained uniquely Australian. By exploring inner-city life in Melbourne, the stories revealed the experience of navigating stifling conservatism and new ways of thinking and being.
While there was immense interaction between the filmmakers – interchanging roles as director, actor and editor on each others films – the cultural activity wasn’t confined to filmmaking. Carlton theatre groups and the staff and students at Melbourne University were also frequently involved.George Tibbits represents this cross-cultural pollination. Aside from acting in Brian Davies’s The Pudding Thieves, he’s also a composer, architect and academic.
Many of those involved on the films were also at La Mama and The Pram Factory including Sue Ingleton, Graham Blundell, Peter Cummins, Jack Hibbard, to name a few. The Melbourne Uni Film Society funded many of the films and there was an interactivity between the Architecture Student Films made at the time and the Carlton group.
Brian Hodsdon calls this movement the Carlton Ripple, which I like – to a point. The French New Wave dwarfs these dozen or so films in an international context, but in a Melbourne or Australian context, without being nationalistic, these films started to tell our stories again. Though not everyone’s experience was related, because the film presented an outsider’s underground view, the Carlton New Wave helped initiate something we still experience today. Apart from being culturally significant, the Carlton Films also constitute a magnific filmic experience.
Perhaps their legacy illustrates why shoe-string, underground films should be given funding support?
[1] In the Australian Cinema: “Chapter 1 Australian cinema: 1896 to the Renaissance” Graham Shirely
[2] There was a film group in Sydney formed in the mid ‘60s called Ubu Film; this group tended to make experimental films while the Carlton group where more narrative based (Brian Hodsdon).
[3] In the Australian Cinema: “Chapter 3 The Cultural Revolution” Phillip Adams
[4] Carlton + Godard = Cinema: An Interview with Nigel Buesst by Jake Wilson
[5] The Carlton Ripple and the Australian Film Revival by Bruce Hodsdon